| 18 May 2024
Prohibition of news on radio is a ridiculous over-reach: Nisha Narayanan

MUMBAI: is an online industry platform which carries various voices of the experts in the industry. In today's edition, we have RED FM’s COO Nisha Narayanan giving her opinion on news broadcast on private FM radio channels.

MUMBAI: All India Radio has an unfair monopoly on the broadcast of news and current affairs. As far back as 1995, in its landmark 'airwaves judgement', the Supreme Court pointed out that "diversity of opinions, views, ideas and ideologies is essential to enable the citizens to arrive at informed judgement on all issues touching them. This cannot be provided by a medium controlled by a monopoly – whether the monopoly is of the State or any other individual, group or organisation." Radio remains the only medium in India on which the government has a complete monopoly of news. This not only betrays the spirit of the Supreme Court's 1995 judgment, it is also downright unconstitutional.

I am sure you know that private radio is the only medium in India on which news is banned. You can broadcast news with complete freedom on TV, newspapers, the internet, even mobile phones. Private radio operators should certainly be allowed to air news, like every other medium in India. There is no 'why' about it. It is a free speech issue, an Article 19 issue. The legitimate question is, why has news been banned on private radio for so long, and how did the government get away with it? The reasonable restrictions on free speech in Article 19(2) does not come close to implying that an outright ban on free expression on any medium is a 'reasonable restriction'. Far from it.

Concerns that "unchecked " news lead to law and order situation or other problems of national security are spurious concerns. We have over 150 news channels on cable TV, many of which are foreign channels over which we have no control. There are over 65,000 registered news journals in India. We have no idea how many news websites are there on the internet, or who runs them. To this day, I have not heard anyone suggest that we shut them all down as 'unchecked' news on any of these legitimate platforms might lead to a law and order situation or problems of national security.

Far from banning news on any of these media, no one in his right mind even suggests pre-censorship of news on TV or newspapers or the internet.

Reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) and the general Broadcast Code apply to all electronic media, including radio. The sensible method of ensuring compliance with the Broadcast Code is self-regulation on the one hand, and suitable penalties for violations on the other. Prohibition of news on radio is a ridiculous over-reach.

FM radio is a local medium, an open medium, a medium that is almost entirely owned and run by Indians, but for some strange reason, it is uniquely supposed to be a threat to national security. There is a degree of paranoia here that most professional broadcasters like me find difficult to understand.

We do hope that with the new government, there will be a welcome change on such restrictions and radio will get its long overdue share of consideration.